Monday, January 14, 2008

Something Completely Irrelevant

Ever read one of my posts about technology and thought "I don't care"? Ever sit in front of a preacher and think "this has no relevance to me whatsoever"? Ever heard some punk kid philosophy major go off about something of no immediate consequence at a party?

I perceive two extremes when it comes to certain types of communication, especially those that preaching falls within. One is watery, human-selected and directed, topical, un-Biblical or simply a-Biblical, motivational speaking and the like.

The other is hard and slow, deep, technical, archaic, dry, boring, exegetical, hermeneutical, linguistic, scholastic, unconnected, judgmental, non-contextual homiletics.

You can ignore the Bible's agenda in an attempt to connect with your listeners and address the issues that they are going through, correct the errors that you personally perceive to be present, or motivate the behaviors you personally think ought to be motivated, or you can ignore the lives of your listeners and their slang and their hurts and their political issues in favor of loyalty to the Bible's agenda, clinging to old and bulky phrases and themes and traditions.

But the reality is that if you have anything of unchanging substance or transcendent truth, if there is any preconceived paradigm from which you come, if there is even one statement or truth claim you wish to convey in any capacity, and yet you desire to interact with, impact, change, motivate, be changed by, teach, suggest, or correct real humans in the physical universe we occupy, you have got to dance a delicate dance. There absolutely must be bi-directional, dynamic, interactive, back-and-forth, multi-person relational engagement and topical selection and presentation.

It just comes down to the fact that there is texture to human lives and cultures and subcultures and cities and schools and families. People are going through hurts and concerns and issues and they care about particular causes - humans are not blank slates, ready for information upload. And their language and use of it changes and varies and is higher or lower in clarity and has a larger or smaller lexicon than those of others.

But if we believe that the Bible contains information basically unavailable elsewhere, if we believe the Bible is God's Word, if we believe that the Bible is sufficient for what it intends to be sufficient for, if we believe the Bible is necessary, we absolutely positively simply and incontrovertibly cannot - cannot fail to do our utmost to get out of it everything it claims, teaches, portrays, conveys or asserts.

But if we do this and stop, we have failed. If all you do is reorganize the truths of scripture, repeat them, regurgitate them, and the like, then you have done no good at all whatsoever. You have added no value. You have accomplished nothing communicatively. Why even open your mouth? People can read the Bible for themselves.

But if all we do is learn about and interact with and submerge ourselves in our culture and become intimately acquainted with their daily lives and hurts and issues and shortcomings, we have also failed.

Obviously the boring preachers do add some value. Sometimes they illuminate ideas, sometimes they chance upon speaking aloud, and maybe even explaining, a passage which happens to be helpful or relevant to their audiences at the right time. I painted an extreme and stereotypical caricature of the Biblical theologians and academically-minded preachers and strict adherents to one or another Christian liturgical calendar. They are not literally pure wastes of human beings.

And obviously the mega-church pastors and topical preachers and artistically-minded pastors aren't all bad either. Often they happen to reach down into various parts of the Bible and perform some value-adding functions.

But the notion emerging in my mind is this: the ideal is smack-dab in the middle of the extremes, exhibiting the best of both and the shortcomings of neither. The ideal sermon is one that has a firm grasp on its audience and a firm grasp on scripture. The ideal sermon selects the correct passage of scripture for the situation at large. The ideal message is Biblically informed and fully honoring of God's agenda, yet 100% in touch with the needs, hurts, problems, fears, language, politics, and errors of its listeners.

May your communication exhibit the qualities of genuine and profound relevance and pure and good correctness. May mine too.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good and insightful post. It gives me a lot to think about.


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